Driver­less cars and cli­mate change

New Zealand Company Vehicle - - NEWS - John Ox­ley

The fa­tal crash in­volv­ing a Tesla S us­ing its Au­topi­lot au­to­matic driv­ing fea­ture doesn’t spell the end for driver­less cars – rather it ac­cen­tu­ates that the tech­nol­ogy is still un­der devel­op­ment, and users have to be aware of the de­fi­cien­cies in what is de­scribed as a “beta” pro­gramme. There have been many ques­tions asked about the tech­nol­ogy, but one which I haven’t seen high­lighted is “what was a truck and trailer do­ing turn­ing in front of an on­com­ing ve­hi­cle?” I don’t know how close the truck was to the car when the driver started the turn, but he should have en­sured there was enough space for him to com­plete the turn with­out the car hav­ing to ap­ply brakes. The crash has also pointed out a short­com­ing in Tesla’s equip­ment, one which I am sure will be ad­dressed. The Tesla sys­tem re­lies solely on cam­eras to ac­cess road con­di­tions and to in­form the soft­ware of the need to ap­ply brakes in that sort of sit­u­a­tion. The fact that Tesla says the soft­ware couldn’t dif­fer­en­ti­ate the white truck against a white sky in­di­cates that per­haps a “belt and braces” ap­proach should be ap­plied, us­ing a radar sys­tem – which doesn’t need any sort of light to op­er­ate, and there­fore would have spot­ted the truck no mat­ter what the colour – in con­junc­tion with the cam­eras. Iron­i­cally, I tested Subaru’s Eye­sight au­tonomous emer­gency brak­ing (AEB) sys­tem only a week ago, as I write, in con­di­tions which were, at best, hor­ri­ble, and verg­ing on de­plorable, with thick mist at times en­velop­ing the High­lands Park race track where we were test­ing. The cam­era-based Eye­sight sys­tem some­times worked, some­times didn’t, in those con­di­tions, but when it wasn’t work­ing the driver was made aware by the ve­hi­cle, and knew not to rely on AEB at that time. But when it did work it was mag­nif­i­cent, bring­ing the car to a com­plete stop in front of an ob­sta­cle from 50km/h with­out my hav­ing to do any­thing! More and more cars are be­ing equipped with driver aids that help to cut down on crashes, and a 2015 study by Euro NCAP and ANCAP con­cluded that low speed AEB, which is the one fit­ted to most ve­hi­cles which have an AEB setup, leads to a 35 per­cent re­duc­tion in real-world rear-end crashes. And while th­ese may not be life-threat­en­ing ac­ci­dents, they cer­tainly are costly, and can in­volve long drawn-out pain and suf­fer­ing from whiplash in­juries. There are, how­ever, not enough sta­tis­tics to show the ef­fect of high-speed AEB, which is cur­rently only fit­ted to a few pro­duc­tion cars; how­ever, the his­tory of safety tech­nol­ogy would in­di­cate that be­fore long this level of safety tech will be fit­ted to most, if not all, cars, and we can ex­pect a dra­matic re­duc­tion in life-threat­en­ing crashes. What all of this DOES in­di­cate is that, par­tic­u­larly in view of the new Health & Safety at Work Act, fleet man­agers should closely ex­am­ine the spec­i­fi­ca­tion of all ve­hi­cles to en­sure as many safety aids as pos­si­ble are fit­ted within their cost pa­ram­e­ters. Cli­mate change I’ve got to put my hand up and ad­mit I was wrong. I have been mak­ing a mis­take in dis­be­liev­ing cli­mate change is man-made, and that the ef­fects we are see­ing now are merely cycli­cal. One of the rea­sons I had re­jected the calls was that the whole “global warm­ing” move­ment was led by Al Gore, a dis­rep­utable politi­cian at best, backed up by an ev­er­grow­ing camp of “ex­perts” clam­our­ing for grants from gov­ern­ments and univer­si­ties to prove their the­o­ries, at the same time lin­ing their pock­ets. In short, the whole thing had be­come big busi­ness, with all that im­plies. What changed my mind? A me­dia ad­dress by Alistair Davies, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Toy­ota New Zealand. Alistair is the first per­son I have heard speak on this sub­ject who has a vested in­ter­est in deny­ing that car­bon diox­ide pro­duced by, among other things, mo­tor ve­hi­cles, is head­ing us to­wards an un­ac­cept­able level of cli­mate change and planet warm­ing. In­stead, he pre­sented com­pelling ar­gu­ments that New Zealand, to­gether with the rest of the world, must re­duce emis­sions to lev­els well be­low 2degc above prein­dus­trial lev­els. It’s a big ask, and New Zealand has par­tic­u­lar prob­lems in that 48 per­cent of “green­house gas” emis­sions in this coun­try come from agri­cul­ture (meth­ane and ni­trous ox­ide), with another 22 per­cent (car­bon diox­ide) from en­ergy pro­duc­tion, 17 per­cent trans­port (in­clud­ing trucks, buses, trains, ships and planes, as well as cars) and six per­cent waste, plus another six per­cent syn­thetic green­house gas from in­dus­try. The fig­ures con­firm that the Gov­ern­ment must be very care­ful of where it spends time and money to fight cli­mate change as dis­pro­por­tion­ate spend­ing in one area would have to be at the ex­pense of another. This par­tic­u­larly ap­plies to sub­si­dies to en­cour­age early adop­tion of elec­tric cars.

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